Hey Laura, how can I boost my picky kid’s nutrition?

Tricia writes:

Hey Laura, what would you feed an extremely picky child whose diet includes chicken noodle soup, macaroni and cheese and yogurt? (considering that she needs to add more calories to her diet)

*****Standard disclaimer: I have no credentials for handing out nutritional advice, but here is some info I’ve compiled that can help!*****

My first advice is my best parenting advice: “It’s probably just a stage; just wait it out.”

That said, there are definitely things you can try to improve her nutrition, even within the constraints of her approved food items. I’ll also give you tips on helping expand her gastronomic horizons!

Chicken noodle soup is an amazingly nutritious food when made from scratch. Here’s a chicken stock recipe I found that uses a store-bought rotisserie chicken carcass. Your family gets to eat chicken for a couple of meals, and then instead of tossing the bones, boil them up with a few veggies! After you’ve made the stock, try Alice Waters’ chicken noodle soup recipe.

If she’s currently stuck on a can brand, try to pull her out of that rut. If she resists, do the old frog-boiling trick - add a little homemade to the canned stuff gradually until you’ve switched the ratios to mostly (and, ultimately, all) the good stuff!

The same concept applies to Mac&Cheese, but is probably much harder to pull off. If she’s stuck on the Blue Box, that’s pretty much impossible to replicate without using other just as artificial and overly processed ingredients. At the very least, you could try using whole grain macaroni with the Kraft packet powder. You could try to sneak in some nutritional yeast flakes (aka brewers yeast - what often gets passed off in my house as “cheese”), or even try adding some pureed white beans to boost the protein. Use whole milk and real butter to increase the fat calories for her.

Yogurt can be a great source of nutrition as long as it’s the right kind of yogurt. Always choose a yogurt without artificial preservatives, fillers, or sweeteners. Greek yogurt is some of the best, as it is much higher in protein than regular, and doesn’t rely on thickeners for its creamy consistency. It’s widely available (and quite affordable at Trader Joes!).

You can also easily and inexpensively make your own yogurt! This 7-jar yogurt maker is only $25 and will save you tons of money over time. Homemade yogurt is really delicious. Your kids can stir in fresh or frozen fruit, honey, maple syrup, or mix it up with breakfast cereal. I grew up on homemade yogurt garnished with blackstrap molasses and wheat germ!

As for gently leading your child out of a food rut, I’m sure you’ve heard (and even tried!) all the standard advice. Let me share what has worked for me.

Engage your child in the process.
There’s something very satisfying about eating the fruits of your labor, so to speak. When I involve my daughter in the process of cooking the meal - giving her jobs suited to her capabilities (stirring with the wooden spoon, retrieving items from the fridge or pantry, etc.) - she is far more interested in eating the results.

Eliminate empty calories
Make sure that every calorie she consumes is a good healthy one. That means no candy, no juice, no soda pop, etc. You don’t want her filling up on junk and then not having room for the good stuff you’re trying to put into her! Snacks are fine, but make sure they are well-rounded and nutrient-dense.

“Try everything once.”
This is a hard and fast rule in our house. I have no patience with my child telling me she “doesn’t like” something that she’s never tasted before! And even if she has tasted it, we point out that tastes change and she might enjoy it this time! That said, I don’t purposefully serve a meal full of foods she detests, but there’s nearly always something that will stretch her tastebuds!

“A bite of this, a bite of that.”
If it’s really important to me that she eat the entire serving of peas, or whatever, we alternate bites of the “good stuff” with whatever she’s resisting.

Make new foods an adventure.
Learn about the different foods of other cultures, then cook them together. Let your child choose a new and interesting looking fruit or vegetable at the grocery store. This British mom blogged about “eating through the alphabet” to cure her son’s dislike of vegetables. Now she has a book contract for The Great Big Veg Challenge! YuckToYum.com is a fabulous site with tons of other imaginative ideas to get kids to eat better.

Eat together.
A family meal is associated with a higher intake of vegetables, fruit, and dairy products. The evidence is quite stunning: such a simple act has enormous benefits for children, particularly as they enter adolescence - not only nutritionally, but socially as well. Parental presence at the dinner table means better grades, lower incidence of depression and eating disorders, and less substance abuse and sexual activity in teens. Start the habit now!

I am not ashamed to admit that I have often resorted to feeding my distractible preschooler just to get an adequate meal into her! Sometimes, you just have to do what works. :)

UPDATE! Tricia found her own solution!

Tricia emailed me a while ago to let me know that her daughter’s pickiness had deeper roots than we’d imagined: a milk allergy. Here’s what she wrote:

Hey Laura! I wanted to give you an update on Rebecca. We finally figured out why she doesn’t eat as much as she needs to!! She is allergic to dairy! Such a simple answer, but as soon as we took her off of dairy and gave her Almond Milk (rice milk was ok, and she likes soy, but almond milk is her favorite) she began to eat like a normal child.

She is still picky, I imagine that will never go away, but she eats MORE at a time. Now I can get her to eat all three meals, a decent amount at each meal, as well as a snack before she goes to bed.

I have also taken advantage of your non-dairy recipes. Becca loves the pesto recipe. I give that to her instead of mac and cheese.

Anyway, that’s all, just wanted to say thanks again, and give you a GOOD update!

Hey Laura, I think... Hey Laura, how can I boost my picky kid’s nutrition?

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